A TRADE union has warned hospital bosses not to open more beds without first hiring extra nurses.

The GMB has raised “serious concerns” that plans to open additional beds at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton is likely to put “further undue pressure” on a nursing staff which is “already at breaking point”.

The union says the hospital’s “prolonged recruitment and retention problems” have put staffing “at crisis point for a number of years”.

It claims health chiefs have failed to solve the shortfall in frontline staff.

The union said: “If the trust looks to increase the number of beds with what is, in effect, a chronic staffing crisis in places, that can only result in increased fatigue, stress and demoralisation amongst staff.

“This is only likely to further magnify existing problems of recruitment and retention across the trust, see a further increase in staff sickness absences, and will further lead to undermining service provision and patient safety.”

Gary Palmer, the union’s regional organiser, said: “In consideration of the current staffing shortages, any opening of additional wards or beds is, by the trust’s definition, an expected and planned act, as it is in this case.

“But surely common sense demands that wards should only be opened once additional staff has been recruited to work in these areas in the first place.

“Opening further beds to assist clearing A&E’s

and other hospital admissions is of course admirable.

“But if in doing so you aren’t able to secure additional nursing staff to look after those increased patient numbers, and instead put additional stresses and strains upon a work force already operating at capacity and beyond, it is both madness and dangerous to both patients and staff safety.

“This cannot be seen as an effective strategy but rather as an act of desperation, which we believe will, unfortunately, impact negatively on patient care, staff morale, and the retention of staff.”

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust was approached for comment.